The idiocy of the British media over the past few days has been hysterical, in both senses. It is rather ironic that after all the dire warnings about Jeremy Corbyn taking us back to the eighties, it has actually been the media doing that, recreating a ridiculous moral panic over Michael Foot’s choice of coat at the Cenotaph with all the enthusiasm and attention to detail of a chapter of the Sealed Knot. This is so like living through 1982 again that I am contemplating popping down to the bookies and putting a tenner on Renée and Renato to be Christmas number one.
Like most on the left, I have spent the past 12 hours or so laughing and shaking my head at the silliness of it all. However last night, as I laid my head on my pillow and turned out the lights, it suddenly occurred to me that I was wrong. This is not just Hanna-Barbera silliness, Corbyn declining to move his lips along to the National Anthem does actually matter. It is important. It is deeply symbolic. Just not in the way that everyone from the Sun to the BBC is insisting.
The Labour Party chose Jeremy Corbyn to be its leader for many reasons, but perhaps the strongest and most important was the sense that this country is crying out for a politician who says what he believes and believes what he says. This country is crying out for a politician who is driven by principle, who acts with sincerity, who behaves with honesty, rather than chasing the whims of the latest focus group.
There are already opinion pieces floating around the liberal media saying ‘this has been a disaster, Jeremy needs a spin doctor to tell him how to behave’ which completely misses the point. Corbyn was elected by a landslide precisely because he doesn’t behave the way some amoral special advisor from PPE Oxford would tell him to.
It is striking that Corbyn today is not being savaged because he doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t particulary believe in the monarchy. On those scores he is in keeping with large swathes of the population. He is being savaged for failing to put on a charade of pointlessly moving his lips and mumbling along to some lyrics which are meaningless, if not downright offensive, to him.
The British people are going to have to make a choice in the coming months and years. Do we want yet another politician who will set aside personal beliefs and personal principles because it is politically convenient and good PR, or do we want a fundamental change in how our political system operates? We cannot have it both ways.
I, for one, am sick to the back teeth of politicians who, when Murdoch, Rothermere or the Barclay brothers say “jump” reply “how high?”
I do not want another Labour leader who is little more than a puppet for corporate interests, for the establishment, for tradition, for the way things have always been done.
Had Corbyn swallowed his principles yesterday and compromised in order to placate the Rottweilers of the media and the political establishment, then he would have taken their shilling. He would have sent a message that yes, he too will dance to their tune, however petty and pointless the jig might be.
My first reaction was that the National Anthem business was a ridiculous non-story, one that could be laughed off. On the contrary, while it may have been trivial and petty, it was also symbolic. It was a test. And it was a test that Jeremy Corbyn passed with flying colours.